If you’re looking for a practical, good-for-you guide to keeping your sanity in our complicated, overstimulated society, look back…way back…to the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism. You’ll be in good company. Stoicism is all the rage in Silicon Valley, on Wall Street—Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates often are described as following Stoic principles—and in books, online courses and live events.
Why follow a way of approaching life that dates back to around 300 BCE? Human nature still is pretty much the same—people want love, wealth, children and respect, and they still are afraid of disease, natural disasters, poverty and being spoken ill of. As much as ever, people today need a framework to orient themselves, set priorities, appreciate the good and handle the bad.
Stoicism may sound simple, but once you start to apply its principles every day, it’s remarkably liberating.
Stoicism is not about suppressing emotion (à la Star Trek’s Mr. Spock) or being so self-reliant that you don’t need anyone. What it is about, fundamentally, is recognizing that each of us can control only our own judgments, decisions, intentions and behaviors—we can’t control outcomes. If you’re not successful, learn from it and move on. It’s that two-part approach—living in the moment but always striving to become a better person—that gives this philosophy its edge. When making major decisions, Stoics consider the following four “cardinal virtues”…
- Practical wisdom: The knowledge of what is good and bad, and what needs to be done.
- Courage: Not just physical courage but also the moral courage to face daily challenges with clarity and integrity.
- Temperance: The exercise of self-restraint and moderation in all aspects of life.
- Justice: Treating others fairly even when they have done wrong.
At the root of Stoicism is respect for other humans. The ancient Stoics were the only major group of free people at the time who were openly opposed to slavery and who thought that women were full-fledged human beings. Here’s how classic Stoicism might help you approach some very modern challenges…
Read the linked article for a series of modern challenges and the corresponding Stoic response.